AN OPEN LETTER REGARDING THE PROPOSAL TO TURN MINNESOTA
STREET INTO A PEDESTRIAN MALL.
There is a proposal, apparently already in the works, to
turn Minnesota Ave. in downtown Bend into a pedestrian mall.
First all, a little personal history. I’ve been in my store,
Pegasus Books, for 37 years now. I’ve watched downtown Bend come back from the
brink and it’s been a wonderful thing to see.
As it happens, in my first year downtown (1984) a pedestrian
mall was proposed. I was too new
to have an opinion, but my neighbors were opposed. I did
remember that a friend of mine, Wes Hare, (recently retired city manager of
Albany, OR) while still at Bend High School, had been part of a city council committee
to explore this idea. In visits to merchants in Coos Bay and Eugene, they were
warned against doing it.
My first point is that researching this is an easy matter. I
would ask our city councilors to ask their counterparts in cities who’ve had
this experience. I’m going to quote research papers and articles on the subject
when I talk about this, but I would encourage you all to go online and check it
out yourselves. At the end of this, I’ve written down some pertinent links for
you. There are literally pages and pages warning against this idea.
But to sum it up, most of the pro-pedestrian mall proposals look
good on paper to people who haven’t actually studied the matter. This isn’t an
opinion: study after study has come to the same conclusions. Closing streets to
traffic is bad idea. City thrive on flow, not on people hanging out.
But how about we start with the basic Wikipedia entry on
Pedestrian Malls? Three paragraphs in it says the following:
HISTORY: “Today, pedestrian malls are
relatively rare in the U.S., except for areas with many tourists and other
visitors. They were more closely tied to the success of retail than in Europe,
and by the 1980s, most did not succeed...” Almost all of this generation of
pedestrian malls built from 1959 through to the 1970s, have disappeared, or
were shrunk down in the 1990s at the request of the retailers.”
The good recent example of a pedestrian mall is Fresno,
California. I’m going to quote a couple of paragraphs from the introduction of
an abstract by Cole E. Judge of Fresno State for the Downtown Fresno
·Pedestrian malls in
the United States have an 89% rate of failure. Most have been removed or repurposed.
Only 11% have been successful.
·Cities that have embraced the Main Street and Complete
Streets models…” (what Bend currently has) “…have experienced turn-arounds in
their downtowns with more investment, higher occupancy rates and more
It turns out that having car traffic is good for business.
Pedestrian streets feel emptier—the
same number of customers walking sidewalks while cars are passing are dwarfed
by the space and lack of motion. They are also a magnet for loiterers,
panhandlers, and buskers. I think this would be a big problem at night.
How long before the city allows permanent or seasonal
retailer booths? Who pay nowhere near yearly rent merchants pay, who have
minimal overhead, and who only add to the competition in our spaces for
Even the Old Mill District and Cascade Village have kept streets
open to traffic. I guarantee you that they consulted with city planners who
know that pedestrian malls aren’t a great idea.
Why does this idea keep coming up? Well, it sounds good. I
admit, if it actually worked—or wasn’t a huge risk for failure—it would seem
attractive and welcoming. But in fact, this isn’t how it usually works.
Finally, I see this as a precursor to turning the entire
downtown area into a mall, which I believe would be a disaster. After all, we
were promised that the parking spaces taken away from us for Covid would be “temporary.”
Have you noticed that they appear to have become permanent?
The experience of all these failed pedestrian malls is that
they are much harder to reverse than to put in place. I would encourage you not
to mess with success. Leave well enough alone. Honestly, sometimes success is
success. Bend has done a great job.
Again, I encourage all of you to Google all this—and pay
particular attention not to the “pie in the sky” plans, but the actual
experiences of downtowns who have already done this.
Thanks for listening. Links on the following page:
105 N.W. Minnesota Ave.
LINKS (Note: these were all on the first page asking the
simple question: are pedestrian malls a good idea?)